Autumn & castagne

Chestnut season

Autumn was a very important time in the village, as it was chestnut (castagna) season. During this time, donkeys would be used to cart the chestnuts that had been collected from the hundred year old chestnut trees in the mountains. The chestnuts would be put on a grill and a fire would be lit underneath them to roast them dry.

Once they were dry and prior to having an automated machine, the chestnuts were smashed with a type of mallet. This removed the husk from the chestnuts. The husks were then discarded and the flesh of the chestnuts were gathered and milled into chestnut flour (farina di castagne). Chestnuts were very important stable, as they sustained the village’s through the harsh winters.

From this flour they were able to bake various foods but in particular the Castagnaccio, a type of chestnut flour cake. Castagnaccio was made by mixing chestnut flour with water and olive oil and then wrapping the batter it in a chestnut leaf. These would then be baked in their wood fired oven. They were then eaten with, in Nonno’s case, he remembers that they dipped them into warmed lard (fat that had been gathered and processed from the pig that had been slaughtered for its meat). Sometimes they were eaten with fresh ricotta cheese that they also made from the cow or goats milk. Nonno says he really doesn’t like it much as he ate so many of them when he was a child.

The surrounding countryside also supplied their families with many wild edible foods. Nonno would forage for plants such as borage. The leaves of this purple flowing plant were used fresh or sautéed as a side dish. In summer they would also be able to gather wild blueberries and strawberries, this was certainly a special treat.

Credit: Ilario Bastiani, Rina Aitken & Montagna Verde

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